Medicare premiums expected to be lower in 2008

Filed under: Health Care |

Premiums for the standard “Part D” coverage for Medicare will be nearly 40 percent lower next year than originally projected, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The agency is expecting 2008 premiums to average $25 a month.
“Competition and smart choices have been two important factors in holding down the cost of the Medicare drug benefit,” said CMS acting deputy administrator Herb B. Kuhn. “Drug benefits continue to be well below projections because of slower than expected growth in prescriptions drug costs generally, in part because of increased generic use, effective plan negotiation and strong competition.
The estimated monthly premium is below the previous estimate of $27 from the 2008 Mid-Session Review. And while the average expected premium for basic coverage is higher than the average in 2007, the increase is attributable to technical adjustments required by law, not increased bids.
About 87 percent of beneficiaries enrolled in a stand-alone drug plan will have access to the Medicare plan that costs the same or less than their coverage in 2007. The majority of beneficiaries could avoid any premium increase in 2008 by enrolling in a lower-cost, stand-alone program.
Under Part D, beneficiaries with low incomes can receive extra assistance with their plan premiums and cost sharing. Nearly 9.5 million beneficiaries are receiving extra help through the Part D program.

Barriers for Electronic Health Records

Cost is the major barrier in using electronic health records, according to a study by the American Osteopathic Association and the Medical Group Management Association Center for Research.
Medical groups with 51 or more full-time doctors tend to have more money available for information technology investment.
More than 55 percent of those practices have adopted EHRs.
Solo practices report only a 25 percent adoption rate, citing a “lack of capital resources to invest in an EHR” as a primary barrier to implementing electronic records. Researchers found the average price to buy and implement a system is about $20,000 per physician, plus $250 monthly for maintenance.
Of those who changed to an EHR, nearly 90 percent said they would not return to paper medical records, saying that the electronic records “improved access to medical record information” and “improved accuracy for coding evaluation and management procedures.”
The research is inconclusive about whether the systems can lower practice costs. Of doctors with systems, 22.3 percent said their practice costs decreased — but an almost identical percentage claimed increased costs. The remaining 36 percent were unaware of the effect EHR had on their practices.
The groups conducted the study in spring 2006.

County grants emergency awards

The El Paso County Emergency Services Agency has awarded grants totaling $8,385 to the Falcon Fire Protection District, Cimarron Hills Fire Department and Stratmoor Hills Fire Department.
Cimarron Hills will purchase two automated external defibrillators. Falcon will send three employees to Pikes Peak Community College to receive Emergency Medical Technician — Basic (EMT-B) certification. Stratmoor Hills will purchase three pulse oximiters.
The ESA Grant Fund provides money for emergency medical equipment and training or public safety education.
The Emergency Services Agency is an 11-member volunteer board made up of an elected official from El Paso County, Colorado Springs and Fountain, as well as representatives from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Colorado Springs Fire Department, the El Paso County Fire Chief’s Forum, Memorial and Penrose hospitals, the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, other related professionals and local residents.
Americans go online for health information
More Americans are searching online for health-related information than two years ago, according to a Harris Interactive survey.
The survey showed that 84 percent of adults in the United States conducted online searches for health information — compared to 72 percent in 2005. Of those who searched online for information, 88 percent said they found the information they needed. In addition, 86 percent said that online health information is reliable.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents who have searched online for health information said they have discussed the online information with their physicians during the past year, compared with 42 percent who said they never discussed health information they have found online with their physicians.
The survey also found that 55 percent of respondents who have searched online for health information said that a discussion with their physician prompted them to search for medical information online.
The results are based on a telephone survey of 1,010 adults conducted between July 10 and July 16.
Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.